November 30, 2018

Contemplation and the Final Judgment

Contemplative prayer is born in the silence that reverently adores the holiness of the Living God. No stranger to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, such prayer is marked by familiarity with the deep things of God.  In the glory of wisdom's height and under the watch of holy fear, this tear drenched gaze of heart ceaselessly searches for the One who is Righteous and True. In the face of senseless horror and abuse of power, this song in the soul knows that the very mystery of human existence has a meaning that Divine Judgment stands ready to reveal.

With confidence in the goodness of the Father, such a sacrifice of praise mysteriously joins the hidden harmonies of the heavenly multitude. Established in this profound stillness, one's body is no longer limited to earthly purposes or spent on worldly dreams. Renunciation of comfort and convenience clears the ground so that the garden of this prayer can be planted. Discipline and determination tills the soil that this devotion makes fertile. This renewal of the mind surrenders to the yearning of divine love to be enfleshed in one's own existence. This panting for God breathes the air of humbled astonishment before the Almighty.

This tender ache knows both jubilation and blessed sorrow as the crucified Lamb of God definitively interprets all of human history and the meaning of each one's life. Contemplation rallies under this banner of love. The spiritual worship it knows advances the cause of heaven. The mystical wisdom it begets makes the world vulnerable to the glory of the Lord.

A heart on fire with the Holy Spirit in this way is not terrorized by the thought of what His judgements make known. Instead, as He reveals arrogance and casts it down, this soul crawls like a starving beggar utterly confident in His Mercy. As He sends the self-satisfied and haughty away empty, the emptiness of this ravished soul draws the Bridegroom. As He releases the heart knelt in adoration from all manner of captivity and self-made prisons, such a soul glimpses the Vindicator of the oppressed and wonders over the ways that He lifts up the lowly. This saving mystery, even as it waits to be revealed, already feeds the hunger and thirst of a soul who seeks the face of God.

November 24, 2018

Christ the King and the Courage of the Martyrs

Through the reign of Christ the King, martyrs raise Christian prayer into heights that the limited powers of this world cannot know. The King of Kings dwells in this place forever implicated in humanity's plight, sending His Holy Spirit of power, consecrating all creation in the truth.  Those who have joined His Body, the Church, are implicated in this very work. The sacred purpose of the Son of the Father will not be thwarted. That is why Revelations 11:3ff speaks about the undaunted witness of two mysterious figures who, though killed, rise up victorious against all hellfire. What is told about these witnesses is true for every martyr and serves as a standard for anyone who would witness to the love of Christ.

One becomes the subject of this heavenly reality through faith in the Lord of Lords. Faith that makes us subject to the Word made flesh frees us from this world even though we still live in it. Those who believe in the Risen Lord and who live by His love still live in this work-a-day world marked by the daily routine. They feel the tyranny of anxious circumstance and the urgent moment's  absolute claim over the attention of the heart. They are not unfamiliar with the popular conventions, learned cynicism, political agendas and cultural forces that enslave their neighbors.

Although in this very world, Christians are subject to it only to the degree that their faith fails them. By faith, they are subject only to the will of the Prince of Peace. Their confidence comes from Him. No longer subject to the commercial and political myths that define social relations, faith gives a higher vantage point. From this height alone is one able to see the true value that is at stake in an encounter and given the freedom to fight for it. Above the fray of the routine, for the sake of the Lamb, these witnesses continue to implicate themselves in the plight of those still subject to it by prayer and love, and here, in prayer's loving power, they fight to open up the vast horizons of truth for which longs the human spirit.

Who are they that they should live and pray in this way? As did Enoch and Moses, they walk with the Lord and call on His Name through it all. As did Elijah and John the Baptist, they bravely unmask every offense against human dignity, even when cloaked in social convention and moralistic disguise. Although certain defeat and death awaits them, as it did St. Peter and St. Paul, they still dare contend against the deepest enemies of humanity until their testimony is complete.

They reign with the Victorious One in the midst of every defeat, void and inadequacy. Even in utter disaster, their witness remains even if in the form of a dried up corpse. A horror to every worldly power, they may even be denied every last respect but they are unmoved. Their enemies may gloat over them, but only for a time with misguided hubris. Their works may appear to crumble into dust and blow away, yet the King has established through them what will not pass away. Like condemned criminals their cause might seem utterly lost, yet, as it is with their Crucified God, not even death can keep them down.

Reigning with the Lamb that was slain, they possess a freedom that allows them, even in the midst of total failure, to witness with courage. Their weaknesses is only a window for divine power. Their seeming foolishness none other than a fountain of divine wisdom. Their mortal end, merely the beginning of new life. In serving their Captain, they have found a liberty that rises above the narrow limits of time and space, a prayer that ascends to the very heart of God in a cloud of glory.   

November 21, 2018

The Invasion of the Word

Night's Darkness
The Word invades
In the solemn mirth
Of this very moment,
Under a multitude of veils,
Rejected but undaunted,
Resounding with meaning.

Hear these silent
Magnitudes of majesty,
In hidden untold splendor,
Bursting forth the more
Betrayed, denied, abandoned,
Suffering to be suffered,
Soft on beatitude's breathing.

A soul can ache with
Such sadness and joy
At once enkindled
By those harmonies
As still remain to be heard:
Hymns, anthems, canticles becoming
That heart, who raises whole creation into
Dawn's brightness.

November 18, 2018

Discerning God's Will

How do we know God's plan for our lives,
The particular pathway that He has prepared for us to follow,
The great purpose for which we are created,
The noble vocation bought for us by the blood of Christ?
The Lord implicated Himself in our Pilgrim plight,
And has already gone before us to our heavenly homeland,
If we search His heart, we will find every gift and virtue needed
To ascend with Him to the Father's glory:

Hope raises our eyes to this Holy Mountain.
Prayer unlocks this narrow gate hidden in our heart.
Wisdom lays open its wondrous horizons.
Devotion sets us across its threshold.
Faith is our guide on this mysterious pathway.
Understanding follows its unwavering course.
Knowledge frees from every distraction.
Counsel finds the cairns when the trail is difficult to discern.
Fortitude fights its foes and endures its painful sorrows.
Holy fear prevents us from looking back.
Love moves each footstep forward.

November 16, 2018

Prayers for those who have Died

My heart goes to those whose loved ones have died in the recent fires in California, in their aftermath as well as in so many terrible acts of violence. Clearly those of us who are close to these awful events cannot be indifferent and we must find ways to relieve the suffering of the living. But what about the plight of those who have died? Does our faith in Christ allow us to offer them relief and aid in their final journey to the House of the Father? If so, then we must pray for them, and for the friends and family that they have left behind.

We are implicated in each other's mysterious journey to God, even after death. We believe this because of the resurrection of the Lord from the dead and the reality of the Church in which Christ has established us. The Christ's own body and blood, soul and divinity are not remote from us, but given to us, even to the point that we nourish ourselves on Him and are made His members.

Hence, joined together in Him, in His Body, the Church, we go where the Risen Lord leads - and He always leads to a deeper solidarity, He in us and we in Him. Having blazed the trail from the valley of death to the Father's House, He is the Way from the depths of sin to the highest heavens. He leads us from the visible to the invisible, from time to eternity, from what seems senseless to what is most meaningful. No one can thwart His purpose.

As members of His Body, we trod this trail by a communion of prayers. This solidarity of hope includes prayers of our own and also of those who pray for us, and every prayer echoes with the cry that lives in the Heart of Christ. Whether we live or die, no power in heaven or on earth or beneath this world can break this communion of prayer. Indeed, when we pray and when others pray for us - it is truly our Immortal Lord praying in us. Wherever there is a reason for hope,  no matter how difficult the journey, who will set limits on the desires of His Heart or circumscribe the love He bears for each soul, especially those whose last moments seem eclipsed by agony?

By a communion of prayer, we journey in Him with one another from the first moment of faith until we arrive at last in the light of glory. By the simplest movement of heart and even the faintest effort to cling to Him, a happy ending awaits us even if in death everything seems engulfed meaninglessness. Not a movement we ever make on our own, but our own decision nonetheless, even as myriads of hosts rush to protect it and help it realize its hope. Thus, at death, when we are no longer able to journey on our own, His prayer through the Church carries us onward.

Love requires many difficult purifications and painful healings before we can stand before the face of the One who loved us to the end. No unaided human effort can endure these trials of love. Yet, we never face these alone, but always in the Church with Christ's gentle presence and His mighty prayer. Because He conquered death and because we are members of His Body, death cannot stand between us and the love of God. If Christ's prayer has triumphed over sin and death, then when Christ prays through us in His Church for our brothers and sisters who have died, whatever He asks for on their behalf is heard and granted by the Father.

By this exquisite solidarity of prayer, the Bride of Christ knows the way to the Bridegroom in both life and death. She knows this path to love. She knows it by love and She knows it for love. She knows even as it disappears from our sight at the last moments of this life. Though we cannot see it, the Body of Christ knows the passage that crosses the very threshold of heaven. Christ Himself bridges this abyss. Therefore, the Bride of the Lamb dares to pray, even for those who have died, by prayer that participates in Christ's own prayer. With a newness that this dying world cannot know, we who are bound together in the Church traverse with each soul the wounds of sin, covered by the blood of the Lamb and His own unvanquished hope, to enter the healing heart of the Trinity.  

November 14, 2018

The Rosary - Ladder to Heaven

A ladder of contemplation, the whole saving mystery of the Heart of Christ is given to us in this humble prayer called the Rosary. When we attend to the Scriptural prayers we repeat, the very mystery of the Word made flesh is given to us.  When we attend to the Biblical stories from which these prayers are drawn, we suddenly become part of the drama of salvation that God Himself has revealed. When we offer the intentions and heartache that often drives us to pray, without realizing it we are freed from our self-occupation and self-reliance. When we consider the immensity of Love to which this prayer points, we are moved to repent over our sluggishness and indifference. When we ponder the Woman whom we call blessed in this prayer, our hearts are plunged into wonder over this Mother who Christ so generously gave us from the Cross. When we ponder the same secrets that she pondered in her heart, without knowing how it happened, we find ourselves in solidarity with all the angels and saints of heaven, crying out "holy, holy, holy..."

November 11, 2018

The Radical Hope of a Generous Heart

Catholics and all Christians are called to live a radical hope - a hope rooted in the resurrection of Jesus from the Dead.  Since we believe that He has conquered sin and death, neither sin nor death can take away our hope.  Our conviction that good has triumphed over evil in the world spills over into our own lives. It gives us the freedom to be completely generous with the Lord because it knows that no matter how much is given, God has already given so much more. Those who ground themselves in the Word of the Father do not fear death or anything, for nothing can stand between them and the love of God.

Radical hope engages in battle. A hope that fights against fear is needed in our families and in the broader community. To be permissive seems like kindness but it is stingy. It lacks confidence in God who is at work in my neighbor. Failures to protect the most vulnerable steal away the hope of others nearly as much as it robs hope from one's own soul. The greed of such despair is only fully revealed under the shadow of the Cross, and it is in this same shadow that radical hope triumphs.

Before the Cross, we find the ground of God's hope for man and man's hope for God. Here, a mysterious Presence enfolds the misery of humanity in mercy. The Father's gaze searches sin and death and finds the loving obedience of His Son. In this mutual gaze, the Holy Spirit convinces us of sin and gives the courage to make a new beginning. Here, cowardice loses its power. The bravery to give all that one has is born. Let the tears that fall from our eyes lift us into prayer. By prayer, let us allow God to move us into action. From the smallest and most informal conversation to a public event where one's reputation is on the line, God is ready to act in and through us - ready to plant hope firmly in His Merciful Love.

November 8, 2018

Hidden Immensity and Secret Harmonies

A hidden Immensity of meaning, a fullness that has only begun to disclose itself, awaits us in the humble act of prayer. This is the Word of the Father. He makes known the truth in ways hidden behind what seems to be routine. This Great Stillness is disguised in the demanding circumstances of the moment. This Beatitude is the hidden solitude one can find even on a busy street. He speaks in the language of silences, most still to be heard, that haunts the noise of the work-a-day world. This Divine Glance is disguised in the lonely stare of a heart that thinks itself forsaken.

Nothing deserves our attention in the way that Divine presence ought to command ours. Fires may rage dangerously close. Floods might threaten. Gratuitous sudden violence leave its trail of broken lives and hearts. Family anxieties and difficult relationships might pile up in overwhelming ways. Menacing political and cultural forces might intimidate. Before our very eyes, the innocent, the marginalized and the weak may be grievously neglected, or harshly crushed, or used. All of this might rightfully require our attention for a time, and often demand decisive action. With time, all of this passes, but God does not change and the love He yearns for us to know is never offered the same way twice. 

For the Holy Trinity envelops and penetrates this whole brief moment of life we share together. So fragile and magnificent, such sorrow and joy all at once, this passing moment rushes to the Heart of the Lord - if we will let it take us there. This very moment was loved into existence - the idea of it so beautiful to God that He willed it should exist. We are bogged down in sluggishness and still something in it echoes and draws us. 

Let the secret harmonies of God draw us out of ourselves.  In ways that defy our ability to guess, the Three Divine Persons have already disclosed their Unity to us, and in this Unity, their Three-ness rings out more beautifully than any earthly music. The great symphony of this uncreated Love resounds at this very moment - and only prayer opens the ears of the heart to hear it.

November 7, 2018

In Praise of the Holy Trinity

In a retreat reflection that she wrote for her sister Marguerite, a mom with small children, Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity sets the life of heaven as the ideal to seek. Yet, she does not propose heaven as simply a remote future possibility. Through a complete surrender of our whole existence to God, the life of heaven is a way of life that begins now. This means that the glory that awaits us is the same glory already present to us now. We are meant to be the praise of this glory - creatures who make known the inexhaustible riches of God:

In Heaven, each soul is a praise of glory to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is because each soul is fixed in pure love. Each one "no longer lives its own life but the life of God" (St. John of the Cross).  The soul "knows itself", says Saint Paul, "as it is known by God." Its will the will of God. Its love the very love of God.  

In reality, the Spirit of love and power transforms the soul.  Given in order to supply what is lacking, as Saint Paul explains, the Holy Spirit accomplishes this glorious transformation in it (see Romans 8:26).  Saint John of the Cross affirms that for the soul that has surrendered to God, little is left to; by the power of the Holy Spirit, it attains the degree of which we are speaking here below! This is what I call a perfect praise of glory!

Heaven in Faith, 42.

November 6, 2018

The Saints' True Knowledge according to Saint Elizabeth

It is good to look into the soul of the saints and to follow them by faith right up to Heaven. They are completely luminous with the light of God. There, they contemplate Him face to face for all eternity. 

The Heaven of the saints is our homeland.  It is “the Father’s House” where we are awaited, where we are loved, where one day we too will be able to soar and rest in the bosom of Infinite love.  When we turn our attention to the sacred world that even in our exile envelops us, the world into which we can move ourselves – oh, how things here below vanish: all of it is for naught. It is all less than nothing. The saints for their part understood true knowledge so well. This knowledge makes us forsake all else, especially ourselves, so that we can soar to God and live only for Him! 

Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, selected from L 184 – On November, 24, 1903, written to Mrs. Angles, the sister-in-law of Father Angles, a close family friend. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Angles became a Visitation Nun in the final years of her life.

November 5, 2018

The Eucharistic Heart of God According to Saint Elizabeth

Saint Elizabeth writes to her brother-in-law, a seminarian:

Nothing tells us more about the love in God’s Heart than the Eucharist. This union, this consummation of Him in us and we in Him, is this not heaven on earth? This is Heaven in faith while awaiting the vision face-to-face for which we yearn. When His glory appears, we will be satisfied for we will see Him in His light. Does not the very thought of such a meeting refresh you, this conversation with Someone so particularly beloved to you? All else disappears. It is as if you already penetrate the very Mystery of God.

May I be wholly ready to respond, wholly vigilant in faith, so that the Master can take me wherever He wishes. I wish to stay close to Him and to learn everything from Him. He knows the whole mystery, “The language of the Word is the gift's infusion.” Is this not so very true? He speaks to our soul in silence. 

I find this precious silence a blessing.  We have the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the oratory: what divine hours are spent in this little corner of Heaven. Here, we possess the vision in substance under the humble Host. Yes, one and the same, He who the blessed contemplate in light and He who we adore in faith. 

Selected text from Letter 165, to Andre Chevignard, June 14, 1903

November 4, 2018

The Measureless Measure

In 1904, in the days leading up to the Feast of the Presentation of Mary, Father Fages preached a retreat to Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelites of Dijon. In that retreat, the Dominican drew on St. Augustine to describe Mary as a model of contemplative souls. She magnified the Lord because of the love that lived in her heart, "Love, unmindful of its own dignity, thirsts to exalt and to increase the beloved: its only measure is to be without measure."

Saint Elizabeth sees this kind of love as the standard, rallying point and gravitational center for her life and the lives of her friends. Heaven loves without measure and this force of love is at work in our souls - if only we will make space for God.  She identifies love's measureless measure with the "riches of God's glory." The gravitational pull of this glory is drawing us to live "no longer our own life, but the life of Christ in us."  With this in mind, she prays to God "to fill you with this measure without measure." (see Letter 214). 

November 3, 2018

The Flowing Presence of the Holy Trinity

In a poem, John of the Cross describes the life of the Trinity as a river. He describes how this Personal Presence given to us in the Eucharist flows through the heavens and the earth. He even claims that this brimming River of Life surges through hell. Is God actually present where He is definitively and eternally rejected? If He can be present there, triumphant and just in the face of malice, how much more He reveals when the rejection is only indefinite and still confined by time.

As St John was tormented by his persecutors, he understood hell fire, and yet, he also knew that those fires could not constrain the Divine Presence. Not only through the very heart of evil, but through the evil that we cling to in our own hearts, this Living Water floods forth.  How can evil withstand this surge? How long will we resist Mercy's force?

Those who are moved to confess their sins and to do penance have felt this Almighty River. Ready to burst dams of bitterness and set limits on the power of sin and death for the price of a prayer, the currents of Divine Mercy cannot be contained or predicted. As this overflowing Flood surges through the sinful levies that we raise, tender tears begin to flow and snobs comforted by forgiveness realize a new beginning.

To help us see what the Divine Persons begins and causes to progress, Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity describes not a river but an Ocean. What mysterious Water holds us afloat on these unfathomable seas! Great tides pull us beyond what is comfortable and convenient. Deep currents can suddenly take us where no one can see. Yet, it is not to nothingness but to fullness of life the Divine Persons draw us.  Christ, the Radiant Star, captivates us and at the same time helps us navigate these Waters in which we lose ourselves. As we surrender, God surrenders - and the Holy Spirit renews this saving Mystery and the Father overshadows with His creative love anew.

Saint Elizabeth's Promise

Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, before her death, promised to help her friends from heaven. She claimed that it would increase her joy to do so.  What she most wanted for her friends is that they should thrive, and that they should render-vous with her again in our heavenly homeland. Yet this homeland was not something that she envisioned in the distant future or remote from the heart. Instead, our true home, the place where we belong, for Saint Elizabeth, is the "Bosom of the Trinity" which is ours by a mutual indwelling - God in us, and we in God.  For her, prayer is meant to lead us out of ourselves and into a great silence that is vulnerable to the Presence of God, and such contemplative prayer knows communion with "infinite beatitude," not only in the glory that awaits us after this life, but right now, by faith. That is why she is praying for us even now. She has a special mission to lead us out of self-occupation and to open us up to the interior grace of contemplative wonder, its adoration, its mystery, its loving surrender.